Before the present North-South Highway (known in Malay as Plus or Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan) was completed, towns like Ayer Hitam, Yong Peng, Segamat, Seremban and Kajang were quite familiar to Singaporeans who travelled north. Ayer Hitam was especially well-known because it was the place where the tour buses liked to stop. Many older Singaporeans would remember, I’m sure, the dirty coffee shops there; and the many shops selling souvenirs, fruits and vegetables; and not forgetting the many flies. But with the completion of N-S Highway, many Singaporeans no longer have the chance to even pass through these towns. As such, other than its famous durians, younger Singaporeans know little about this sleepy little town called Segamat.
One day in 2002, I suggested to my brother, Chun See and my sister, Pat that we should pay our Aunt (my father’s elder brother’s wife, we called her tai pak leong) a visit in Segamat, as she is now quite old - around eighty years old and was staying in her son’s flat. And so we set off on the morning of 31st November 2002, at about 9.30 am in Chun See’s Toyota Corrolla. Pat brought along her good friend Mdm Chan (a retired nurse). Earlier I had called my Segamat cousin, who was a car mechanic to expect us in the afternoon.
We stopped for lunch at an old coffee shop in Ayer Hitam. From Ayer Hitam, we continued northwards along the old trunk road and arrived in Segamat at mid-afternoon. The journey was smooth. We drove into the town’s main street and checked into the first hotel we found, a rather old one. The room rate was really cheap, something like S$18.00 per night. Later, we found that a better hotel was just down the road. I telephoned my cousin and he came to lead us to my aunt’s flat which was on the town’s outskirt. My aunt was surprised and happy to see us coming all the way from Singapore to visit her. We told her that all of us were getting old and I, apart from seeing her, would also like to see the place where I was born. This was somewhere in a row of shop houses along Jalan Sultan, which my mother had described to me. Before departure, we gave her S$200 for her pocket money and Mdm Chan also gave a small ang pow of S$10.00 to her grandson. She thanked us profusely and insisted that her younger son should take us for dinner in town.
My younger cousin and his wife took us to a small restaurant which resembled a Singapore coffee-shop. The service was terrible. There were only two tables occupied. After serving one table, it took them forty five minutes to come to us. Of course we did not complain for fear of embarrassing my cousin. My cousin’s wife told us that she was quite familiar with Singapore as she had worked in Jurong for a period of time before her marriage. After dinner, my cousin took us to a pasar malam (night market) which was similar to those in Singapore, with nothing much to buy.
The next morning, we had breakfast at an Indian coffee shop. Chun See loved the putu mayam which reminded him of our kampong days. I tried the roti prata to see how it was compared with our Singapore variety – but I cannot recall my verdict. Chun See (being the 5S consultant) observed that the level of cleanliness of this shop was better than that of Singapore. When we reached Jln Sultan, Chun See began to take many photos. We went over to the nearby Hakka Association to take more photos, as my late mother used to mention the association.
I was born in one of the shop-houses along this street (Jalan Sultan) next to the Segamat River..The Hakka Association building still stands where it did more than half a century ago.
After saying goodbye to our relatives, we set off for home. We had lunch in another small town called Yong Peng. The food was good, and the restaurant was air-conditioned. Again we noticed that the cleanliness of the place, including the toilets, was excellent.
We stopped over at Johor Bahru and did some shopping before heading for home. All in all, we had a nostalgic trip back to a place where our parents met during the war. All of us, me especially, are in a sense, the ‘products’ of this little town.
Lam Chun See continues.
Lam Chun See continues.
My earliest memories of Segamat were from my secondary school days. I joined my mum and her youngest brother, our Eleven Uncle, on a trip to Segamat. I cannot remember if my dad came along. Very likely he did. The year was 1967, because I was in Sec 3 then. The purpose of the trip was to exhume my maternal grandparents’ graves and rebury them properly. Apparently they had been buried quite haphazardly, without a proper grave stone even (probably due to the war) in Segamat. Now that all my uncles were settled down and doing well in life, my mother had insisted that they performed this duty.